Financial Tips for College Students

With the average tuition and board in the United States ringing in at about $20,000 a year for a public institution and almost $46,000 a year for a moderately priced private university, capitalizing on the college experience shouldn’t include building a debt larger than necessary. In fact, as a young adult this may be the first opportunity to build credit and financial independence. Making grounded financial decisions at this early stage may feel just as grueling as hitting the gym every day. With a little time, you’ll find the results will compound and build both a present and future of financial fitness.

Budget. It sounds grown-up because it is. Understanding your monthly out-of-pocket expenses versus your monthly income will help you live within your means. In the future, as your financial situation becomes more complex, you may decide to work with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional to help build your budget, but for now making regular appointments with yourself should become part of your routine. Set up an initial budget using realistic ballpark spending figures for items such as rent, utilities, gas, groceries, and entertainment (this should be capped) against income figures from your part-time job, financial aid, and other regular assistance. If you’re able to work in a margin to put a small sum of your income into savings, do it. Consider this as making a payment to your future self.

Think student discount. Until your golden years, there’s rarely an opportunity to get a regular discount on anything. If you want to go out with friends and celebrate that finals week is over, take advantage of businesses and establishments that offer student discounts. Often times these are in popular neighborhoods near and around universities, which makes it easier to rideshare or involves little to no gas money. Larger organizations and companies can also offer beneficial student discounts on big ticket items like laptops, insurance, phones, and service subscriptions.

Build positive credit. While cash may be king, established credit history will often times do the trick when it comes to making big financial decisions and investments for your future. Proving that you can be trusted with a credit line, however small, ultimately builds trust with financial institutions all over. So maybe you’re thinking you want to own your own business straight out of college; you’ll most likely need a loan to cover at least some of your expenses. Good standing credit is how you’re going to get that loan. Obtain a credit card that you can use to make a small recurring purchase every month and set up autopay to make sure the card is paid on-time every month. You may be late to class from time to time, but making late payments is something you should always avoid.

Download money saving apps. We don’t expect you to spend your free time clipping coupons but apps like Target Cartwheel, RetailMeNot, Ibotta, and Campus Special will help you save on expenses. Apps like Mint can help you not only build your budget but keep you on track as well. We are not promoting a particular app. Rather, we are suggesting that you take a look at various resources available at your fingertips.

Keep yourself busy with free events. Whether on campus or off, there are opportunities to get involved, be social, and network for free. Take advantage of university-sponsored lectures and workshops. Research organizations and volunteering opportunities that will help you connect with like-minded people or expand your reach into industries and areas that excite you. The more you’re involved, the more opportunities for growth you’ll create for yourself. Committing time and energy to activities that you both enjoy and can learn from may land you a handshake with your next boss or mentor and at that point you won’t just be saving money, you’ll be making money too.

Your college years amount to a very unique life stage that you don’t get to repeat. Your energy and enthusiasm gets rewarded with opportunity. Yet while those opportunities deserve exploring and your attention, so do your financial decisions. Your participation in your finances will become habit-forming and you want those habits to encourage financial growth and resilience. This is a lesson that will put you ahead of the curve.

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